There is a highly individualized form of cultural Christianity making its way into the church. It could best be called, “The Gospel of Me.” The foundation of this belief is that “God wants me to be happy.” At its core, “The Gospel of Me” is selfish, self-centered, narcissism.
If there is a leader of the movement, it would probably be Joel & Victoria Osteen. The internet has been aflame recently with a video soundbite from the Pastors Osteen — this time offered by Victoria Osteen as her husband Joel beamed in the background.
In her message, Victoria Osteen tells their massive congregation to realize that their devotion to God is not really about God, but about themselves. “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God–I mean, that’s one way to look at it–we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. . . . That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. . . .”
She continued: “So, I want you to know this morning — Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. . . . When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”
There have been numerous responses to the video. Albert Mohler points out that it is one more evidence of “…the consumer culture, the cult of the therapeutic, the marketing impulse, and the sheer superficiality of American cultural Christianity … The Osteens are phenomenally successful because they are the exaggerated fulfillment of the self-help movement and the cult of celebrity rolled into one massive mega-church media empire. And, to cap it all off, they give Americans what Americans crave — reassurance delivered with a smile.” Daniel Wallace says the statement is “some of the most blatant narcissistic blather ever to come from a pulpit.” One person put together a humorous video in which Bill Cosby offers a rebuttal to the Osteen’s message. After Victoria Osteen’s statement, Cliff Huxtable in the Bill Cosby show, responds, “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
I’ve had conversations recently where I have encountered people who seem to embrace “The Gospel of Me.” In an attempt to understand their thinking, I put together a summary of what they seem to believe.
Those who subscribe to “The Gospel of Me” seem to embrace salvation but reject discipleship. They believe in salvation by faith but reject holy living. They neither work for their salvation nor work to demonstrate their salvation.
Some who embrace this belief system attend church while others do not. Those who attend church want their desires catered to—style of music, type of coffee, color of carpet, pleasing messages that make them feel good, programs for their children, etc. They prefer a church where they can be anonymous spectators who sit on the sidelines. They like to hear the gospel preached, but feel no compulsion to live it or share it.
Still others who subscribe to this system reject the church as a cultural expression that is no longer needed. They emphasize their “personal relationship” with Jesus but have no need for the corporate body of Christ, especially the local church.
The followers of this system tend to read the Bible selectively. They like when Jesus confronts the religious leaders but ignore him when he says, “go your way and sin no more.” They view the Bible as a source of hope and comfort but not a guide for daily life. They love the promises of God but dismiss the commands and instructions.
They reinterpret the Scriptures according to their own desires. They redefine sin as what holds them back from reaching their potential. They are postmodern and pragmatic in their approach, seeing truth as what works for them.
They gravitate toward pastors and teachers who make them feel good and avoid those who preach accountability. They like those who agree with what they think and shy away from anyone who contradicts their opinions. If someone points out the sin in their lifestyle, they dismiss them as judgmental and legalistic. Since God wants them to be happy, they believe, they will follow their feelings regardless of whether or not it conflicts with Scripture.
Rather than a new system, “The Gospel of Me” goes back to Satan’s strategy in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).
|“Did God actually say …” (1b)
||Half-truths designed to cast doubt on God’s goodness
|“You will not surely die.” (4)
||Outright denial of God’s word
|“…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” (5b)
||Appeal to pride
|“…the woman saw the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise…” (6a)
||Appeal to senses and personal desires
|“… she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (6b)
||Eve bought the lie and believed that disobeying God would make her happy. Eve was active in her rebellion and Adam passively went along with her.
|“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked … And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord …” (7-8)
||Adam and Eve knew they were wrong and hid from God. Following “The Gospel of Me” will end in shame and regret